NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 8: Opposition leaders today questioned the legality of the expulsion of Mahua Moitra as a member of the Lok Sabha, arguing that there is no law under which a Member of the Parliament can be expelled by taking a vote in the house.
“…this House does not have the right to remove someone as a Member”, said Kalyan Banerjee, a fellow member of the Trinamool Congress who represents the Serampore constituency in Lok Sabha.
He said the Constitution of India has laid down clear provisions under which a Member can be expelled by the Speaker and sharing the login password of the question-and-answer password is not one of them.
“The Constitution has provided certain provisions for disqualification under Article 102. This is not coming within that”, he said. “There is no power of removal by the House itself. Constitution does not permit, the rules don’t permit.”
In another section of the Parliamentary rules, he said, the Speaker has the right to suspend, but this case does not come under that either.
Speaker Om Birla, on his part, clarified that he was not suspending or expelling Moitra.
He was, he said, only allowing a discussion on the report of the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee and the report happens to have a recommendation that she should be expelled.
“The Speaker is not doing anything. If anything is being done, it is being done by the House”, he clarified.
BJP members countered the legal argument put forth by the opposition by pointing out that, in the 2005 Tehelka scandal, several MPs caught red-handed accepting bribes from under-cover journalists were expelled from the Parliament.
Banerjee took two objections to BJP’s argument. One, he said, there is no proof or evidence that Mahua Moitra took cash from Darshan Hiranandani in return for asking questions against the Adani business group, unlike the 2005 case.
Secondly, he said one violation of constitutional provisions cannot be used as a justification to carry out further violations. “No precedent can stand against a constitutional provisions”, he said, adding:
“Let’s assume, for arguments sake, the allegations are correct. If the password has been shared, where has it said it is an offence? Section 43 [of the IT Act] is applicable only if someone uses my computer without my consent. This is not applicable here.”
He also questioned the conclusions of the report.
“In the conclusion, [the committee report] says – it has been proved that cash has been taken. Where is that? Where is this finding on facts? How much cash? This [report] is not based on evidence”, he added.
TMC was backed by other opposition parties, including Indian National Congress.
Manish Tiwari, a lawyer and a leader of the Congress, questioned the way the committee went about preparing its report and pointed out that Moitra was not allowed to cross-examine the people whose affidavits were used to make her the accused.
“Can the procedure of the Ethics Committee override the fundamental principle of natural justice? The person who is the accused is not even allowed to put her case fully and get an opportunity to cross-examine the same.”
Like Kalyan Banerjee, he too pointed out that there was no provision in the rules for a committee to recommend the expulsion of any member.
“The rule says the recommendations of the committee shall be presented in the form of a report. The Ethics Committee can decide whether someone is guilty or not. The Committee cannot decide what the punishment can be”, he said.
Janata Dal (United) leader Girdhari Yadav, a member of the Ethics Committee, also questioned the report, and said members belonging to the opposition parties had raised the issue of cross-examination, but members from the ruling side ~ who have a majority on the ethics panel ~ overruled them.
“Why was he [Darshan Hiranandani] not summoned before the Committee? If [MP] Nishikant Dubey could be called for cross examination, why wasn’t Darshan not called for cross-examination? We had asked, in the Committee, to call him. But he was not called”, he said.
Speaker Om Birla refused to allow Mahua Moitra to speak in the Parliament even though her party designated her as the speaker on this debate, claiming that since she was the accused, she could not be allowed to speak in the discussion.
Moitra, however, spoke to the media outside the Parliament, repeating the arguments of her party colleagues inside the house.
“There is no evidence of any cash, of any gifts, anywhere. There are no rules whatsoever to govern the sharing of logins”, she said.
On her part, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee accused the ruling benches of ‘ditching” the Constitution and misusing their superior numbers in the Lok Sabha to trample on the rights of the opposition members.
“They did not allow Mahua to take a stand and explain her situation. You have done full injustice. It is a betrayal of her constitutional rights. They ditched the people, they ditched the Parliament, they have ditched the Constitution, because they have the majority. Today, they have the majority, but tomorrow, they may not”, she said.
She said she was happy that the opposition stuck together on this issue.
“Today, I congratulate the INDIA Alliance, all are together, they fight back. The [TMC] is fully supporting Mahua’s case, she is elected by the people. We also have two-thirds majority [in the West Bengal Assembly], we can expel anyone from the house. But is it proper, to expel somebody without doing justice? All the parties must raise their voice…Mahua is a victim of circumstances”, she said.